The truth will out in the end, I suppose — it is 6:24 in the morning, and I don’t need to be here. Here? In front of this computer on a cold Sunday morning when the rest of the family is sleeping.
At 6:24 on a Sunday morning, the neighborhood has been divested of its usual careless cut-through drivers and barking dogs; is, like the unnoticed new moon that arced above the trees throughout the night, defined mostly by what can’t be seen.
Though through the curtains, here, I can glimpse light and the flicker of television, though the curtains, there, that means a child across the street has awoken way too early and the parents have done what parents ought to do and set him in front of the television set for that last thirty minutes they long to spend sleeping on Sunday morning, which, after all, has long been called a day of rest.
The sky behind the peak of the house next door grows paler, more pearly, and that neighbor is finally asleep — 86, the police woman who showed up night before last said, she’s 86 years old; though it was 80 she used to coyly tell neighbors, leaning over her chainlink fence, while her ratty dogs barked and leapt and pirouetted around her and she occasionally whacked them with her cane, as might be expected from an elderly country woman who once worked in the cotton mill four or so miles from here, who was married for the first time at sixteen, who has outlived everyone who meant anything to her — three husbands, a beloved son, innumerable barky dogs.
The sky pinks, the trees remain Sunday morning motionless.
Miss N. next door is, in her terrible loneliness, the best, most self-serving argument I can think of for having more than one child.
For she has no one now and has no business living alone. Most likely she used to lie to the neighbors about her age in an attempt to convince all and sundry that she was younger than she actually is, and competent.
Which, over the past year, it’s become increasingly clear she is not. Is it dementia? Loneliness taken beyond the extreme? A reaction to her inhaler or her blood pressure medicine or some other medication I never even heard she takes?
For Miss N. has decided: The neighbor to her right (not us) parties all night long. She throws bricks at Miss Nell’s house! She took up with the mosquito sprayer for the City (Atlanta, city under siege, never sprayed for mosquitoes even the days when it was sitting in the catbird seat and certainly doesn’t now).
The neighbors catty-corner play the bongo drums. Even when the house is between owners and empty, they’re in there playing the bongos! All night, every night! Can’t you hear it, honey?
The neighbors catty-corner to the left: well, they must not be getting along. Because he’s sitting outside on the wall that borders their property, all night every night. Even when it rains! He pulls a tarp over himself to keep dry. He’s sitting out there drinking.
These are the things Miss N told me back when she was still speaking to me. Now our relationship is a little strained —though I’ve put in my share of time calling social workers, Miss N’s distant relatives, neighbors with connections in the mental health profession —because she has told her other neighbors — just as she leaned conspiratorially over her chainlink fence and told me, about them — that The Husband and I show our children the backs of our hands nightly.
When Miss N moved into her house in 1969, did this describe the neighborhood? It’s almost as terrible a vision of humanity as Cormac McCarthy’s was in The Road.